The Wolverine

October 2011

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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Michigan���s Best Walk-Ons ��� Of Four-Plus Decades Redshirt junior Jordan Kovacs��� on-field exploits over the past two years once again stirred talk of what non-scholarship athletes can deliver when given a chance. Kovacs earned a scholarship last season and has retained it after finishing second on the team with 116 tackles. Here are the top five Michigan football players over the past 42 years (Bo Schembechler era on) who came to Ann Arbor without a scholarship: Brian Griese compiled a 17-5 record as U-M���s starting quarterback and guided the Wolverines to a national championship in 1997. Photo by Per Kjeldsen 1. Brian Griese, QB, 1994-97 ��� Griese wasn���t destitute for offers, by any means, and could have secured an immediate scholarship elsewhere. He instead chose to come to Michigan as a preferred walk-on, eventually earning his keep ��� not to mention a national championship, as a fifth-year senior quarterback. 2. Donnie Warner, MG, 1973 ��� Bo Schembechler tried to gently let down the 5-9, 170-pounder, when he came to inquire about a spot on the roster. Ultimately, Schembechler couldn���t get rid of Warner, who became the starting middle guard for a staunch defense on the undefeated 1973 team. Years later, Schembechler called Warner ���the greatest player I���ve ever coached, simply because I���ve never seen anyone else do anything close to what he did.��� 3. Mike Evans, DT, 1988-91 ��� The burly lineman came out of Roxbury, Mass., as a walk-on, but developed into a starting defensive lineman. He recorded 146 career tackles, performing on four Big Ten championship teams of the late ���80s and early ���90s. 4. Henry Hill, MG, 1968-70 ��� Hill came out of Detroit and stepped in as another tough defender for Schembechler���s early Michigan squads. A part of the famed ���69 unit in Schembechler���s first year, Hill wound up recording 169 career tackles, with six forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries. 5. J.D. Carlson, PK, 1989-91 ��� Carlson represents all the U-M kickers who used to arrive sans scholarship. He booted 39 field goals in his career, fourth on the all-time U-M list. Carlson also set the season record for highest field goal percentage by a Wolverine, knocking through 92.9 percent of his attempts in the 1989 Big Ten title campaign. ��� John Borton 26��� the wolverine��� ������ October 2011 farmland, 60 miles southwest of Ann Arbor. The Chargers weren���t interested. Thanks for inquiring. The University of Toledo also said thanks, but no thanks. So Kovacs did what every prospective college football player does (or not) when rejected by the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference and the Mid-American Conference. He aimed for the Big Ten, and specifically, Michigan. ���In my heart, I always knew I wanted to come here and play,��� Kovacs recalled. ���I just had to figure out a way to get into school and get myself an opportunity to play.��� Kovacs��� dad proved an equal mix of positive energy about his son���s abilities and realism regarding the path he���d chosen. ���We knew he was good,��� Lou Kovacs said. ���As a former player, I could tell. Anybody that understood football knew that this kid could play. Sure, he didn���t have the 4.4, 4.3 speed, but he just understands the game. ���The recruiters just didn���t seem to pick that up. That���s what���s frustrating about the recruiting process. They just fall in love with these numbers, like 4.3 speed. I don���t think they look at enough film to see how they actually perform on the field.��� Then again, the father knew all too well what it takes to make it as a walk-on at Michigan. He recalled: ���I told him: ���You go to Michigan, you may never play. Is that okay?��� He said, ���I just want to make the team. I just want to be a part of that program.��� ���I told him he might just be part of the scout team. He said he was okay with that. He really didn���t care.��� Lou Kovacs made some calls, eventually resulting in his son getting into a student body tryout, in the fall of 2008. Michigan���s new coach, Rich Rodriguez, was a former walk-on himself and appreciated what diamonds in the rough can accomplish. Kovacs went through the tryout and was told he���d made the team. Ecstatic, he went home and told everyone ��� friends, family, anyone with a passing interest ��� that he was a Wolverine. All he had to do was pass a physical upon returning. And he didn���t. He���d undergone surgery as a se-

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